CLEVELAND — Francisco Lindor is moving to a new city and team that is willing to meet his salary demands.
The four-time All-Star shortstop — and one of baseball’s best all-around players — was traded Thursday by the Cleveland Indians along with pitcher Carlos Carrasco to the New York Mets, who have a new owner willing to spend at baseball’s highest levels.
“They did not come cheaply,” Mets president Sandy Alderson said. “What we’re trying to do is create a new reality rather than deal with perception.”
The cash-strapped Indians sent Lindor and Carrasco to the Mets for infielders Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario, right-hander Josh Wolf and outfielder Isaiah Greene — a move Cleveland hopes will keep it competitive and capable of ending baseball’s longest World Series title drought.
Dealing Lindor, who will be eligible for free agency after the 2021 season, was inevitable for the midmarket Indians, who are unable to compete financially with MLB’s big spenders and dropped roughly $30 million in dealing two prominent players and fan favorites.
“These are people we care about, not just players, and guys that loved the organization and have great memories here,” said Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti, who said he was in tears when he spoke with Lindor and Carrasco. “Trades like this are really tough. But it’s the right thing to do.”
For the Mets, landing Lindor is a home run and another major move by hedge fund owner Steven Cohen, who bought the team on Nov. 6 from the Wilpon and Katz families and has pledged to increase spending.
One of his next big-ticket moves figures to be signing Lindor to a long-term contract, something the Indians couldn’t do. Alderson said he hasn’t yet had any discussions with Lindor’s agent.
“We acquired Francisco because of his present ability and the possibility that he could be a Met long term. There’s no guarantee of that. It’s something we will approach in the next few weeks,” Alderson said. “At this point, we felt comfortable giving up the group of players we did for both Lindor and Carrasco. … We gave up a lot of control for short-term control, but I think we’re comfortable with that and what we might be able to do going forward.”
The 27-year-old Lindor can affect the game with his bat, glove and legs. A two-time Gold Glove winner, he’s a career .285 hitter and has averaged 29 homers, 86 RBIs and 21 steals in his six major league seasons — all with the Indians, who drafted him in 2011 and developed him.
He has also been the face of the Indians franchise, with an infectious smile and joy for playing that has made him one of Cleveland’s most popular athletes. But he’s gone now, leaving the Indians without their best player and the team’s fans grumbling about owner Paul Dolan.
Carrasco is one of the game’s best comeback stories, overcoming leukemia to become one of the AL’s steadiest starters. The 33-year-old has an 88-73 career record with a 3.73 ERA.
With an abundance of young pitchers, including Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber, the Indians were in position to move a player of Carrasco’s caliber.
He can be replaced. Finding someone to fill Lindor’s shoes will be much tougher.
Once the Indians’ pandemic-shortened 2020 season ended with a loss to the New York Yankees in the wild-card round, it became a matter of when, not if, Lindor would be traded.
The Indians made it known that Lindor was available for the right price. And while it’s never easy to trade a generational talent with perhaps his best years still ahead of him, Cleveland’s financial situation was never going to make it possible to keep him.
“This deal has been in the works for a long time,” Alderson said Thursday. “We’ve been talking since way before the break and really since close to the beginning of the offseason. It came to a head here in the last couple of days.”
Lindor had $6,481,481 in prorated pay from a $17.5 million salary last year.
Carrasco is signed at $12 million in each of the next two seasons, part of a deal that includes a $14 million team option for 2023 with a $3 million buyout. The option would become guaranteed if he pitches in 170 innings in 2022 and is found to be healthy for the 2023 season.
New York’s payroll is approaching the $210 million start of the luxury tax.
“It’s a significant demarcation,” Alderson said. “I wouldn’t say that it’s a line that cannot be passed.”
Cohen is hoping to turn around a franchise that has not won a World Series since 1986. He fired general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, brought back Alderson as team president and hired Jared Porter from Arizona as GM under Alderson.
Since Cohen’s takeover, New York has kept pitcher Marcus Stroman for an $18.9 million qualifying offer, signed right-hander Trevor May to a two-year, $15.5 million contract and signed catcher James McCann to a four-year, $40.6 million deal. New York also signed injured right-hander Noah Syndergaard to a one-year, $9.7 million deal.
Alderson was noncommittal as to whether more moves might be coming.
“I think the market will dictate some of our decisions over the next few weeks,” Alderson said. “We feel like we’ve made a major impact on the team, but we’re not perfect, so we will still be active talking in the marketplace.
“But I do think this moves us forward quite a bit. … I think you have to look at this in the bigger picture. We gave up two prospects that we really like, but they weren’t part of our top six or seven. We have never said we’re not going to trade prospects out of our system, but I think what we’ve said to ourselves is we’re not moving the top handful of our players, and I think this deal respects that.”
Rosario is eligible for arbitration for the first time after earning $225,474, prorated from a $608,780 salary.